I was sitting at Dunkin Donuts this morning, drinking a medium coffee with cream, eating one of their delicious new grilled cheese sandwiches, and reading an article about the 20th anniversary of that time that some scientists in Australia or Austria or Canada or possibly Council Bluffs cloned a sheep or a goat or a mule, I think it was. I wasn’t reading too closely. It was early, but it gave me an idea. If I could clone, or, more precisely, just take a photocopy, of the three best players from each major college basketball program during their respective primes, which school would have the best three-on-three basketball team? Maybe not their three best players, but the three players that would make their best three-on-three team. I’ve tried to give every team a big man, a playmaking guard and a tweener of some sort.
A bunch of sportswriters knocked out similar columns 20 years ago right after those Iowans cloned that goat. I remember Bill Rhoden talking about it on the Sports Reporters back then. Hopefully, most of you have forgotten those columns or were too young to remember them. Either way, here is my stab at the topic. Some people who’ve written similar columns have written up a bunch of rules governing the way these imaginary games or tournaments functioned. Some Lupicas wrote up actual simulated games. I don’t feel like doing that. Let’s just assume that these teams are playing a half-court game. The first team to 21 points will win. Shots inside the perimeter will be good for one point. Shots beyond the arc will be worth two. Let’s assume that the Hebner brothers of WWF fame are the referees. Let’s also assume the games are being played at Neil Diamond’s home indoor-basketball court.
I’m just going to rank my Top 25 three-on-three teams and add in a few honorable mentions at the beginning.
Let’s start with the also-rans of Clayton’s imaginary three-on-three tournament.
Texas: Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, TJ Ford: This formidable team is held out of the top 25 only by LaMarcus Aldridge’s poor Twitter skills.
Georgia Tech: Mark Price, Chris Bosh, Kenny Anderson: A balanced team with a solid big man, two great playmakers and two great shooters. The only reason they aren’t in the top 25 is that they didn’t make it to the game on time. Their secret friend Uga wanted to go for a ride with the windows down in the Rambling Wreck and they didn’t make it over to Neil Diamond’s house until the next morning.
Michigan: Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard: Used to playing together, but atrocious in the clutch, especially Mr. Webber.
Indiana: Steve Alford, Isiah Thomas, Walt Bellamy: Isaiah will create a lot of open shots for Alford and Bellamy, but I assume Isaiah will do something at some point during the game to turn his teammates against him.
Illinois: Derek Harper, Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson: No big man, but this is one limber, lissome, lithe, leonine and louche lair of lotharios on Illinois’ roster.
BYU: Danny Ainge, Shawn Bradley, Jimmer Fredette: As long as these three-on-three games are played to 21, this team is incredibly dangerous. 7’6 Shawn Bradley probably has five minutes of inspired play in him. He can block 10 straight shots in that time. Jimmer and Ainge will be able to knock down enough outside shots in those 5 minutes to win a lot of games.
Providence: Marvin Barnes, Lenny Wilkens, Austin Croshere: This is the honorable mention team most capable of beating any of my imaginary three-on-three clubs. Lenny Wilkens is arguably the greatest defensive point guard in the history of basketball. He wasn’t bad on the offensive end either. Austin Croshere is a thick, shooting machine who can generate lots of open looks with his raw animal magnetism. Big man Marvin Barnes is just as likely to hit 10 straight shots as he is to not show up for a game.
UNLV: Larry Johnson, Reggie Theus, Stacey Augmon: Talented team that lacks a true big man or playmaker. They also have a fair share of in-fighting before games. LJ and Augmon are both jealous of Reggie Theus’ superior mustache.
Arkansas: Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, Corliss Williamson: One of the toughest and thickest trios around. This may be the team that I would least like to get in a fight with behind the Dairy Queen, unless the Charbonneau brothers of St. Albans are free to help me that afternoon. I heard things. When they were 14, they talked big about how they could beat up a grown man. By now, I figure the two of them could beat up Corliss Williamson.
Washington: Brandon Roy, Isaiah Thomas, Detlef Schrempf: Lacking a true big man, this Washington team has two excellent tweeners in Roy and Schrempf. Isaiah will command the offense and make this a tough out in my imaginary tournament that ends with a Blizzard party at the mall food court Dairy Queen in Waterford, Connecticut.
The Top 25
25. Duke: Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Grant Hill: Versatile team that plays great defense. They only rank 25 on my list because I am pandering to Duke haters.
24. Syracuse: Carmelo Anthony, Dave Bing, Sherman Douglas: This Syracuse team will take a lot of early leads, but Carmelo will run out of gas after about five buckets and demand more money to continue playing.
23. Minnesota: Mychal Thompson, Lou Hudson, Kevin McHale Kevin McHale has more low-post moves than Dean Malenko. Mychal Thompson is a high energy, top-notch defender and one of the greatest athletes in the history of basketball. Lou Hudson is a near-elite scorer who plays great defense. Could be overwhelmed by teams with a dominant big man, but the Gophers will get to 21 with surprising speed.
22. Massachusetts: Julius Erving, Marcus Camby, Al Skinner: Two great defenders paired with Dr. J, who is best known for inventing the Strawberry Julius. When caught in the rain, he gets a taste for the Pina Colada Julius. A longer version of the Duke team, but with Dr. J. Later in this list, Dr. J has an escape.
21. Kentucky: Dan Issel, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall: Coach Adolph Rupp will be annoyed by John Wall’s repeated efforts to teach Dan Issel how to Douglas.
20. NC State: David Thompson, Nate MacMillan, Tom Gugliotta: The Wolfpack was looking great until David Thompson went AWOL during a smoke break. He and Dr. J. decided to go on a road trip to Denver to recreate their famed 1976 ABA All-Star Game Slam Dunk Contest. They rented a Mazda Miata and drove it through the night with the top down on an unseasonably warm January evening. They fought all the way over music. Dr. J brought his Grand Funk Railroad CD, but David Thompson threw it over the windshield after he heard "Some Kind of Wonderful" for the fourth bleeping time on the Indiana Turnpike. David "Whatever, Whenever" Thompson proceeded to find a Jack station that came in clearly all the way from Gary, Indiana to Grand Junction, Colorado. When they finally arrived in Denver, the fellas found out that the McNichols Arena, the site of the original slam dunk contest, had been torn down some years earlier. Not ones to dwell on unpleasantness, Thompson and Erving gassed up the Miata and headed for the west coast in hot pursuit of some In-and-Out Burgers.
19. West Virginia: Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley, Rod Thorn: According to multiple sources, fifty year old Jerry West beat twenty-something Magic Johnson regularly in one-on-one games before Lakers practices. Read Terry Pluto’s Tall Tales, an excellent history of the NBA’s early years, for the rundown on why Hot Rod Hundley may be the most explosive player on this excellent team. I almost put Ralph Sampson on this team because my brother menaces me with a door knob he keeps in a tube sock. He swings it over his head every night yelling "Ralph Sampson went to West Virginia!"
18. Oklahoma: Blake Griffin, Alvan Adams, Buddy Hield: Probably the best jumping team in the tournament, but they run the risk of getting distracted by Blake Griffin’s Gamefly account. Alvan Adams, the quintessential 70s man, runs the risk of being overwhelmed by the wide selection of XBox 360 titles available through the service. "It’s like the Blockbuster Video of video games," he kept telling Buddy Hield, who had never heard of Alvan Adams before I imagined them being on the same pretend team.
17. St. John’s: Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, LeRoy Ellis: Three excellent shooters and defenders. This team will do great in my imaginary three-on-three tournament, unless they are coached by Chris Mullin.
16. Connecticut: Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor, Richard Hamilton: Outside shooting ace Ray Allen is also the best actor on this list. Richard Hamilton has the longest arms, non-Kevin McHale division. Emeka Okafor is a formidable force in the low-post. Why is this team not ranked higher? They wasted all their energy buying belly raspberries from Bret Bielema’s stomach at Flying J Truck Stop outside Metarie, Louisiana. Read all about it in my recent "Best of the One Act Plays" column featured on Down the Drive.
15. Cincinnati: Oscar Robertson, Nick Van Exel, Kenyon Martin: The Big O is the best all-around player in this tournament. You know it and I know it. But that won’t be enough for the Bearcats. Despite the numerous skills of Van Exel and Martin, our lack of a dominant big man (Editor’s Note: K-Mart isn’t/wasn’t dominant?) will prevent us from bringing home the Blockbuster Video Employee of the Month plaque I found at a Methodist Church rummage sale to serve as this tournament’s trophy.
14. Tennessee: Bernard King, Allen Houston, Diesel: Two versatile scores and former WWF and WCW champion Kevin Nash. This team will look great in their NWO T-Shirt uniforms. Scott Hall will be strutting around courtside shirtless in his denim vest with an aluminum baseball bat in his hands and a toothpick in his mouth, ready to use either to help the Volunteers’ cause. Anyone who tries driving to the basket against this team is going to get jackknifed.
13. Michigan State: Magic Johnson, Draymond Green, Scott Skiles: Scott Skiles is awesome in NBA Jam. Magic and Draymond Green are awesome at basketball. This is one awesome team. Magic did an awesome job at point guard. He did an awesome job replacing Kareem at center as a rookie in the NBA Finals. Draymond Green may not be classically handsome, but he is an awesome point forward. Scott Skiles was awesome at getting called a juvenile delinquent by Bobby Knight in Season on the Brink.
12. DePaul: George Mikan, Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings: Mikan drank four orange sodas at half-time. Gretzky drank a diet coke, a Gatorade and a bottle of water between periods. I drank all the other kids Powerade for them while I warmed the bench for them in high school baseball.
11. Marquette: Dwayne Wade, Maurice Lucas, Doc Rivers: What a tough trio. This team will play excellent defense. D-Wade and Maurice Lucas will muscle their way into lots of good looks in the low post. Doc Rivers will pester the Dickens out of whomever he is guarding.
10. Maryland: Len Bias, John Lucas, Len Elmore: Big, long and athletic, this is one of the most physically formidable three-on-three clubs. Bias is their only great scorer, which keeps them off the medal stand.
9. Wake Forest: Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Len Chappell: If this was a two-on-two tournament, the Wake Forest team would challenge for the Blockbuster plaque, but Len Chappell, though a fine pro, is a bit of a Pete Best amid this rarified air.
8. North Carolina: Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Rasheed Wallace: UNC does not have a good enough big man to win this tournament. Michael Jordan would not get along with Rasheed Wallace. Moreover, MJ doesn’t like the rules of three-on-three basketball. It gives him flashbacks to his days in Chapel Hill playing for Dean Smith. Three-on-three basketball, much like coach Smith, prevented him from scoring more than 21 points in a game.
7. San Francisco: Bill Russell, Bill Cartwright, K.C. Jones: Bill Russell and K.C. Jones don’t lose basketball games. They play the best defense in this tournament. Plus, Bill Cartwright’s got the funkiest foul shot. None of these guys are great shooters, but their defense, agility and ball movement will make them one of the elite three-on-three teams.
6. Ohio State: Jerry Lucas, Greg Oden, John Havlicek: Two of the greatest all-around big men in the history of college basketball and the best all-around small forward there ever was combine to form a fearsome team. The fragility of Oden is their biggest question mark. How is it that Oden looked older as a college freshman than seventy-plus Lucas and Havlicek do right now?
5. Georgetown: Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning: As talented as any team on this list, but the unpredictability of Ewing and Iverson also makes them one of the most volatile. Can beat any of these three-on-three teams, but could also lose 21-0 to Brigham Young if Ewing or Iverson are in a mood.
4. UCLA: Bill Walton, Reggie Miller, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: If coach John Wooden gets photocopied along with his players, the Bruins go undefeated. If not, this team devolves into a competition between Walton and Jabbar to see who can be the bigger flake.
3. Kansas: Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Pierce, Danny Manning: The only problem this team has is that there’s only one ball. Moreover, Wilt was not much of a big game player and, from his admission, was easily distracted. If distracted, this may in fact help the Jayhawks.
2. Houston: Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon: I was really surprised when they put Clyde Drexler but not Hakeem Olajuwon on the 1992 Dream Team. Oh, wait.
1. LSU: Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit, Shaquille O’Neal: The unstoppable force (Maravich), the immovable object (Shaq) and Bob Pettit, a Cajun scoring machine who could rumble with anyone on this list. Maravich was a magical ball-handler and the greatest shooter who ever set foot on God’s Green Earth. Additionally, Shaq knows Shaq-Fu, which adds to his physical dominance in the low-post. Bob Pettit is the best third best player on any of these teams. And that is why LSU wins.
This is a work of parody and not intended to be taken seriously. For more of the same, follow me on Twitter: @ClaytonTrutor